We've been at a dearth of material recently, and history of this 2 1/2 year old blog has shown that nothing gets the creative juices firing like a soccer post. After a soccer post, seemingly every other staff member pens something to knock the beautiful game off the top of the patch, so let's get at it.
With the Cup Semifinals this weekend, now's the best time for my end-of-season MLS awards. I'll award some of the awards MLS does, along with some of my own superlatives.
MVP: Juan Pablo Angel, Red Bull New York
While his statline (14 G, 3A) may not be impressive as Golden Boot Winner Landon Donovan's (20 G, 9 A), this belies the way in which Angel has singlehandedly taken New York on his back and led them to the final four. One in every three goals scored by New York this regular season (and playoffs) has been scored by Angel. Without him, the Red Bulls are nothing. With him, they are one win from their first-ever MLS Cup Final.
Most Outstanding Player: Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy
You can't say much about Donovan's play this year because it speaks for itself. What makes Donovan's Golden Boot title all the more impressive is that Donovan played 5 fewer games than his closest competitor (FC Dallas' Kenny Cooper) and STILL managed to beat him by two goals to win the scoring title. Donovan did this all while playing on arguably the worst team in the league. Donovan is presently training (or perhaps on a 10-day trial?) with German superclub Bayern Munich. If he jumps ship I would not be surprised.
Newcomer of the Year: Darren Huckerby, San Jose Earthquakes
Coming over from English side Norwich City in midseason, Huckerby rejuvinated the playoff aspirations of the Earthquakes. Without Huckerby it would have been a sad, lonely second half of the season in Northern California.
Goalkeeper of the Year: Joe Cannon, San Jose Earthquakes
Cannon's return to his former club gave them at least a fighting chance. While this award ended up going to Jon Busch of the Chicago Fire, I have to give it to Cannon. As a former keeper myself, I know that most keepers are only as good as the 10 men in front of them. Without taking anything away from the great season Busch has had, he has a top flight backline of Conde, Soumare, Segares, and Prideaux in front of him, along with a tenacious midfield. Cannon had NOTHING in front of him. One of the worst teams in the league, San Jose surrendered more shots than any other team. Yet Cannon only allowed 4 more goals on the season than Busch. Cannon posted a respectable 1.27 GAA, and finished fourth in the league in shutouts with 9. It should be noted that the three keepers who finished above Cannon in shutouts this season were all on playoff teams (Kevin Hartmann, Kansas City; Will Hesmer, Columbus; Jon Busch, Chicago).
Supporters Section of the Year: Section 8 Chicago, Chicago Fire
Sure, level all the homer accusations that you want, but the bottom line is this season Section 8 doubled in size, sent sizeable away contingents (20 or more fans) to Columbus (twice), San Jose, Kansas City (twice), New York, Toronto, New England, Colorado, and Salt Lake. That's more than even the vaunted Red Patch Boys of Toronto FC, who sure, brought 2,000 to Columbus and another couple hundred to Chicago, but were otherwise nearly invisible this season aside from some small trips to New England and New York. The Fire's playoff game against New England featured nearly 1800 screaming Fire fanatics in Section 8 yelling for 90 minutes. Flares, smoke, and new, more complex tifo displays brought a continental European atmosphere to Toyota Park, and reminded the suits at MLS what a big game is supposed to, and can look like given the proper environment. On that front, few organizations have had to face what Section 8 has had in the past year. Deaths of members, dicking over from the Fire front office at every turn, racist abuse and instigation by stadium security, etc. The group holds a banner at each game reading "Per Infinitas Incendida" which roughly translates as "Forever through the flames," and Section 8 has done just that.
Honorable mention: El Battallon/Texian Army, Houston Dynamo
Most Improved Supporters Section: Nordecke, Columbus Crew
Sure, for years when the Crew were terrible, everyone loved to rag on Columbus. They were a soccer mom town with only a few fans who were generally viewed as the laughingstock of the league. They have shed that label and while not yet in the company of Chicago, Toronto, DC, and Houston, Columbus is charging up the ladder and is an away trip to be reckoned with. The removal of seats at Crew Stadium consolidated the supporters groups and forced them to work past their various differences (seating preference, language, etc.). In many ways, this is the model of Section 8. Columbus mounted their first large-scale away trip in recent memory by sending a couple hundred fans to Chicago after the Fire sent a couple hundred fans to Ohio over 4th-of-July weekend.
Honorable mention: Loyalists, Real Salt Lake; Empire Supporters Club, Red Bull New York
Biggest Disappointment: DC United's South American cadre
In my preview piece, I boldly predicted that DC United would be the first team to win the Supporters Shield 3 years in a row. They finished 9th and failed to make the playoffs. Their vaunted South American signings from Argentina, Peru, and all other corners of the continent proved to be largely ineffective due to underperformance and injuries.
Honorable Mention: MLS Teams' performance in the CONCACAF Champions League.
DC United finished last in the group stages. New England and Chivas USA lost in the qualifying round to teams from Trinidad and Panama respectively. Only Houston has a chance to advance beyond the group stages.
Goal of the Year: Hard to vote against Cuauhtemoc Blanco's 35-yard blast against DC United.
Honorable mention: Danny Cepero, Red Bull New York for being the first Goalkeeper to ever score a goal in MLS.